Doing my best impression of a street photographer on the Kamehameha Highway.
It was the third morning of my first trip to the North Shore. The swell everyone had been talking about since I got there had arrived; I could hear it. A steady rain was coming down and it was still dark outside. I threw some garbage bags in my camera bag and headed to the bay before first light. My phone buzzed, a CNN update. Two helicopters off the coast of Oahu had collided while I was sleeping. Twelve marines were missing.
The scene at the bay was eerie. The crowds and traffic hadn’t formed yet. The rain had created a thick fog over the water and large military planes and helicopters circled overhead. All the while, the biggest waves I had ever seen were coming in, each set bigger than the next. I took my camera out, but it was too dark and there was too much moisture in the air. I couldn’t shoot anything. There were still a few hours till the swell peaked. I watched a few more sets then headed off to get coffee and wait for the rain to pass.
When I returned the crowd was thick. The sun had risen and the rain began to back off a bit. The traffic on the Kamehameha Highway was bumper to bumper. Military vehicles transporting dozens of young crop cut men in camo fatigues, sedans with selfie sticks hanging out their windows, and jacked up trucks with beds full of brightly colored rhino chasers all at a stand still.
During sets the crowd cheered and gasped while holding up their cellphones and clicking away. When there were lulls they quietly shared any breaking news of the previous night’s tragedy or updated their social media. I found a space with a good vantage point and decided to set up. I quickly realized my 100-400mm lens had moisture in it from shooting in the morning rain. The lens was fogged over. For now, it was useless. I couldn’t believe it. I had come to Hawaii to shoot, and on the biggest day of the season at Waimea I wouldn’t be able to capture a single wave. I stood staring at my camera gear feeling completely defeated and like the world’s biggest kook.
As I stood there in defeat and became a background extra in what I assume was at least 75 different snapchat stories, I watched as surfers walked through the crowd and down to the beach, flotation vests on and boards in hand. I was backstage for the big show and had an all access pass. I looked around and decided if I couldn’t capture what was going on out there, I’d capture the mood on land. I put on my 50mm and shot what I saw.